New invention allows amputees to control a robotic arm with their mind

Deepak Gupta June 20, 2022
Updated 2022/06/20 at 9:46 PM

Through the use of electronics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), a research team at the University of Minnesota has made mind reading possible. Amputees who cannot use their muscles to control a robotic arm can now do so thanks to a device developed by researchers at University of Minnesota.

The team says that, compared to previous technologies, this is more accurate and less invasive.

Robotic arm: Electronic devices that read the human mind

Currently, most commercially available prosthetic limbs are operated from the shoulder or chest via a cable and harness system. The native limb above the prosthesis the patient is wearing is monitored by sensors in more advanced models. However, both techniques can be challenging for amputees to learn to use and are occasionally useless.

A small implanted device that attaches to the peripheral nerve in a person's arm was created by the University of Minnesota's Department of Biomedical Engineering with the assistance of commercial partners. The device can detect and analyze brain impulses when used in conjunction with a robotic arm and an artificial intelligence computer, allowing upper limb amputees to operate the arm with only their thoughts.

The researchers' most recent study was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, which focuses on the multidisciplinary topic of neural engineering.

It's much more intuitive than any trading system out there. With previous commercial prosthetic systems, amputees don't really consider moving a finger when they want to. Once the system detects the muscles in the arms, they are trying to contract those muscles.

These systems need a lot of training and practice as a result. Because we immediately read the nerve signal with our technology, it is aware of the patient's objective. All they need to do to move a finger is think about moving that finger.

Said Jules Anh Tuan Nguyen, a researcher in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Nguyen has been conducting this study with Zhi Yang, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the same university for about ten years. Nguyen was a crucial figure in the creation of neuronal chip technology.

DARPA funds projects to develop technologies to help amputees

Yang was approached in 2012 about developing a nerve implant that could help amputees by Edward Keefer, a business neuroscientist and CEO of Nerves, Incorporated. The pair have completed numerous successful clinical trials with real amputees after receiving funding from the US government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In order to commercialize the technology, the researchers also collaborated with the Technology Commercialization department at the University of Minnesota to create a company called Fasikl, which is a play on the word "fasikl", which describes a bundle of nerve fibers.

According to Nguyen, it is crucial that the technology has a commercial group behind it to bequeath the necessary impact to real people and eventually improve the lives of patients.

Creating new technology is exciting, but if you're just doing research in a lab, no one will really be affected. We wish to participate in clinical studies at the University of Minnesota for this purpose. I've had the honor of dealing with multiple human patients over the past three or four years. When I am able to help someone move their finger or do something they previously thought was impossible, I get very emotional.

Nguyen said.

This is another step towards allocating technological development to the service of human health. Bring robotics closer to people who suffer from a disabling problem.

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